Why is it that formula cars and Sports 2000 racers appeal less to the imagination than other track weapons?
This theory works for me. Comparing the typically pointy, sex-less expressions of many formula cars around with the older, open-mouthed 'cigars' in the paddock convinces. The presence of just that mouth in the anonymous face already makes a big difference. Having said that, upon closer inspection there is actually lots to see on these lean machines' bodies; this is even the case with the skinny 'Formula Kent' series. Flo and I take our time and soak up the wealth of details; from purposeful tight packaging bulges to massive NACAs - and the odd leather strap. Even duct tape can be beautiful on these bare, functional fuselages. Yet the difference, made by well-executed graphics, is phenomenal. Most owners are either running traditional race colours (good!), a non-discript pale livery which was probably developed for their truck fleet (bad!) or a detonating combination of the favourite colours they had as kids (ugly!). Most cover their monoposto in random clouds of stickers and decals.
A manga-style track fighter stands out, however - graphics with almost military intent, properly designed. Good job, studio 54!
While the last strips of duct tape are applied to squeeze those last drops of aerodynamic drag out of the fiberglass shells, we slowly move on - to check out the action in pit lane. A semi-pro blue crew is manning the wall as one after the other racer rolls out of its box - proudly carrying the latest technical approval stickers, while the engine barks deafening, raw and brutal soundbites. Back to the action!
Not much later we find ourselves further down, on the opposite paddock side, where we choose to stroll down the other, older pit lane with its many small boxes. This is where the touring cars live these days. Many of them are jacked up, wheels removed. Must be the weather - unreliable as always down here. You never know which type of tires you need until it's too late. Pushing back the decision. Many pit boxes are deserted, in some cases a bored wife is sipping coffee while hubby (Austin Powers?) is making final adjustments to the car - or trying to relax, if he still can. The atmosphere is friendly, sometimes candid. Open door policy - no questions asked when we walk in to admire the machinery.
When the formula cars have finished their laps, our interest is back to the races again. Must be the face thing - can't help it. It's also brilliant to see that the cars that we've only just looked straight in the eye have now all come to life - to fight it out on the track. Sleeping Beauty has transformed into Speed Beast. Pedal to the metal.
One of the best fights we witnessed that day had to be towards the end. After having ventured into new territory, by walking up the hill from Pouhon towards Rivage. We cross a big welcome sign, at the back of the track, that seems to represent the main entrance for a more important audience - the F1 circus? We make our way back to the best part of the circuit - along the long straight towards Kemmel, Raidillon and ...Eau Rouge.
The decision to first stop halfway down the straight appears to be a good one. This is where some big m*****f*****s are going to be screaming their rebel yells only a matter of minutes later. The best howl must be from the viper-green-and-black Dodge Challenger; independently Floris and I get visions of a World War Two fighter blasting past us, as it chases a bright blue 911 RS up the hill towards Les Combes.
Shivers down the backbone!! (Shakin' all over!)
Saturday 11th June, 10 AM.
The citizens of Francorchamps have already had their involuntarily early start to the day over an hour ago, by the time we finally arrive at the track. The day's second session is already well under way. As with previous editions of the Summer Classic, the brutal noise of race cars shifting down for the La Source hairpin is almost lost in the naturally quiet Ardennes surroundings. It surprises us -again- how little public is attracted by these fantastic Francorchamps race day events. After our two-hour road trip, we opt for a cappuccino and pain au chocolat on the paddock restaurant's balcony, while we take in the high paced laps of the CSCC 'Swinging Sixties' machines. A bright red Camaro soon becomes our favourite, but it can hardly keep up with the canary yellow TR7 it is chasing. But wait - wasn't that a seventies car?
But that's the Summer Classic; while the contenders do race as hard as in any other competition, the various classes are such a rich mix of vehicles that it is often a challenge in itself to try and guess its common denominators. But then, who cares? Certainly not the mixed bag of drivers: captains of industry, their well-off 'sons-of', a rich variety of smaller company owners (judged by the obscure sponsor names, written in large on their cars and trailers) and numerous plain enthousiasts who have probably put most of their savings in a Caterham Seven or, say, a Lotus Cortina. Which is often maintained by a bunch of even more enthousiast mechanics - seemingly from the local town workshop. They often race in various classes simultaneously and are all just here for a few days of undiluted fun. And for the fans that we are, the Summer Classic, as always, is a great way to come oh so up close and personal to the cars and their drivers.
This rich mix of pedigree seems slightly off balance when the Formula 3 series get ready to rumble. The average age of formula car drivers seems well above 50 (60?), judged by one after the other grey-moustached, well-weathered face that we spot through most helmet visors. Nevertheless these guys mean the business. Some cars look like miniature Formula 1 racers and the attention to detail -as the level of tech support- is impressive.
As the weather changes, sometimes dramatically, in an almost hourly rhythm, we do our best -as the drivers do- to anticipate and plan our obligatory track walk. You don't want to get caught in one of those sudden Francorchamps rain showers! Before you know it, the shimmering hot and sticky asphalt may change in a soaking wet and slippery slide. Which will consecutively heat up so quickly again that steam rises from it, thick as smoke. The air will be hot and humid once more, with ten degrees centigrade difference in a matter of minutes. Ah, Francorchamps!
We alternate watching the races with deep-diving into the paddock and pit lanes. Every tent, every pit box its own atmosphere, nationality and -in many cases- family feel. Lots of Brits today! A bit further down, we chat with the 2 meter tall Dutch driver of a tiny orange mint condition Elan, who explains us why the car looks so good: it was built up all over again after a recent dramatic crash. Changed my opinion on shiny race cars once and for all! "It's all in the game", he smiles, indifferently. Later that day, he would finish third - his cheeky little Lotus snapping at the tail of a big, bad 'Vette.
It's those unexpected stories and meetings, together with the ever-inspiring hunt for details, brilliant war paint and graphics, that make these days so great. On top of the continuous speed kicks and eargasms that is.
What a wonderful day!
If after two paragraphs you think CFX has been taken over by children, that might very well be true because mentally your editor feels 7 years old whilst writing this. Why? I just finished my first Track Day on BrandsHatch in my Vauxhall VX220 Turbo - Stage II.
Having done races and trackdays on Zandvoort, Assen, Zolder and Bedford, I was increasingly confident about my abilities to drive a car on a race track quickly. Luckily Brands Hatch is there to relegate my confidence back to square one! This place brings car control to a whole new level! My apparent (serious) lack of talent means I am constantly fighting to keep the car on track, even the main straight is a challenge…
It all starts at a deceptively nice afternoon: the Brits have introduced a brilliant concept called a Track Evening; you arrive at 16.00 hours, Brief at 16.30 and at 17.00 you are at the wheel until 20.00. Arriving at a Track Day is a bit like a your first ‘House Party’ when you are 11 years old and you have left the comfort of parties that cater for running around the house covered in grass stains; everything around you suddenly looks alien and intimidating.
Brands Hatch is no different; many Caterhams rolling out of closed Brian James Trailers, the Porsche-boys always seem to arrive in droves with the various specifications of 911 GT3 R/RS/RSR etc. Obviously the chaps from Norfolk are well presented in various specifications of the Exige, Elise and (dare I say in this line-up?) the VX220. To sum up we cannot forget the propeller-boys from Munich with their M3’s varying in age from E92 – E36 and modified from roll cage fitted to just slick-tires.
My standard VX220 that was driving me home from the office and delivering the groceries to the missus a mere few hours earlier made me feel I brought a knife to a gunfight … BIG GULP! On trackdays, three sighting laps are mandatory. For most drivers however, this is a bit like foreplay; they have done this game so often they just want to get on and go do the deed. For yours truly on the other side this was a very welcome addition to the program.
Entering the Arena: Blimey! You drive out of pitlane and you fall into an abyss of 10 meters! They call this Paddock Hill Bend …bend is a highly overrated word for this hole! Later I would find out that at speed you accelerate so quickly that you actually bounce off the rev-limiter in second, imagine how sheer the drop. During my sighting laps I cannot help think; if this impresses me whilst I am chasing a Vauxhall Vectra 1.6; how will I survive without the protection of the sighting laps?
A classical battle with yet another contemporary interpretation: the adrenaline pulsates almost audibly in the valleys of Seacrest County, as good chases bad in the teaser for that other great race game. (Yes, also 'out now'.)
Click through for a brief 'making of'.